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Blackouts, Corruption, and Incompetence

By: María Gabriela Díaz - Sep 9, 2013, 11:39 pm

Sabotage was the main cause for the almost-national blackout last Tuesday in Venezuela, according to Minister for Electrical Energy Jesse Chacón. Nineteen out of 23 states lost electricity in the middle of the day for more than two hours, leaving millions of Venezuelans wondering what happened with the so-called electrical revolution. For people living outside Caracas, blackouts have become routine and last Tuesday’s blackout was another one from the bunch.

A lot of factors are causing the collapse of the national electrical system; however, corruption appears to be the main one.

In 2006, the now-deceased President Hugo Chávez created the Misión Revolución Energética — a short-term policy program that aimed to achieve energy efficiency though rationed energy consumption and the use of alternative energy sources. Three years later, the program fell short.

In 2009, the strategy became more aggressive, and President Chávez declared the application of programmed blackouts as a way to ration the electricity consumed in several regions in the country. These periodically and scheduled blackouts were to be applied in regions outside Caracas, so the capital city wouldn’t be affected. The excuse was that the passing phenomenon, “El Niño,” was causing a severe drought in the Guri dam, the primary electrical energy source in Venezuela.

Despite these measures, in 2010 Chávez declared the country in a state of electrical emergency.

A few months later, the government announced the end of scheduled blackouts, because the drought had passed and the Guri dam had recovered. However, even after the end of this policy, blackouts throughout the country continued and became commonplace, so people just got used to them.

The government has given different excuses for these fails, from blaming iguanas for harming the electrical wires, to conspiracy theories that accuse the opposition of sabotage. Meanwhile, the government has made big efforts to inform the people about the major investments they have supposedly been making to improve the electrical system — but the results are not showing.

iguana-power
Iguanas, they’re to blame! Source: FreakingNews.com.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if most of this investment was diverted into cronies’ pockets. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Venezuela ranks 165 out of 176 countries, and most Venezuelans are familiar with corruption related to the public sector. A large proportion have enriched themselves with these types of deals.

The lawsuit of Derwick Associates by the former United States Ambassador in Venezuela, Otto Reich, is no exception. According to Reich, Derwick Associates, a firm with no prior electricity experience, received several lucrative contracts in energy agreements with state-owned enterprises. The presence of tendering, racketeering, and bribing to public employees, are some of the accusations made against the firm. The government hasn’t responded, and they probably won’t — like the rest of the corruption cases.

Regarding last Tuesday’s blackout, the first response Venezuelans received from President Maduro was through his Twitter account, attributing it to a coup d’état by the extreme right. Once again, the sabotage story was left without evidence, just like many others. Even though it’s obvious that a very big part of the problem is due to corruption inside government and the lack of investment and maintenance in the electrical system, the absence of accountability and absurd conspiracy theories seem to be the normal response to the electrical crisis.

With that in mind, how many more blackouts do Venezuelans need to suffer through with revolutionary responses before they will start getting institutional ones?

María Gabriela Díaz María Gabriela Díaz

María Gabriela Díaz reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and led the PanAm Post internship program. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus in international affairs.